Astro Boy 2009

by E. "Doc" Smith on October 23, 2009

Astro Boy was a Japanese manga series created by the famed Osamu Tezuka, (1928-1989), revered in Japan as the “God of Manga.” First published in 1952 and appearing as a television program first broadcast in Japan in 1963, Astro Boy was also the first Japanese TV series that embodied the aesthetic that later became known worldwide as “anime”. Tezuka’s story follows the adventures of a fictional robot and a collection of villains and other characters along the way. In August of 2007, I had the pleasure of seeing “Tezuka: The Marvel of Manga” at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum. It was the first time that anime took its rightful place in the world of Asian art as well as an exhibit that toured the globe. No one deserves the honor more than Tezuka. Now comes his creation’s latest epic, “Astro Boy”, a 3-D, computer generated film that would likely have made Tezuka smile.

An original story set in the futuristic Metro City, Astro Boy is about a newly created robot (Freddie Highmore) with many powers, created by a grieving scientist, Dr. Tenma (Nicolas Cage), in the image of the son, Toby, that he has lost. Unable to fulfill the fathers’ expectations, the robot embarks on a journey in search of acceptance, becoming part of a group of rowdy kids on the surface world below the floating city.

There he meets by a girl named Cora (Kristen Bell) and inadvertently becomes part of a world of robot gladiators led by the greedy, Fagin-like ringmaster, Hamegg (Nathan Lane), before he returns to save Metro City from the evil president’s (Donald Sutherland) renegade giant robot, and reconcile with the father who had rejected him.

I’d been watching the original series on Cartoon Network over the last several years, flashing back to my childhood in Washington, D.C. Those old black and white episodes seemed so high tech to me back in the 60’s. How does this new version stack up to the original series, the 1980’s and 2003 versions and everything else that’s come before it?

Well, the basics from the original story are there, with a few subtle twists. The animation? In a word, amazing, however for the anime purists, this film is an unusual blend of Manga-meets-Pixar. The 3-D-CGI effects to me, are extremely western and when you add Japan’s most famous hero to a “Toy Story” style film, there is such an odd, almost seamless quality that one nearly forgets these worlds, at least on comic book paper, were ever far apart.

In short, I liked it. Astroboy captures the spirit of Tezuka’s most beloved character like nothing before ever has, basically retelling the classic story of Pinocchio. Played out in science fiction time and again, the desire to make machines human is a story that continued with Isaac Asimov’s “I Robot”, and it’s modern day counterpart, “Lt. Commander Data” from Star Trek’s, “The Next Generation.” Astro Boy’s journey is one that ultimately teaches us more about ourselves, and that’s exactly what Tezuka had in mind.

E. “Doc” Smith is a musician, recording engineer and the creator of 1980’s comic book, “Tony Squak, Intergalactic Sleuth”. He is also the inventor of the musical instrument, the Drummstick. He can be reached at http://edoctorsmith.com

Filed under: Arts & Entertainment